Demand for internet televisions is growing at a monthly rate of four per cent, making the UAE the largest market in the Gulf with a 40 per cent share, according to Samsung.
Consumers switch to i-TV
Demand for internet televisions is growing at a monthly rate of 4 per cent, making the UAE the largest market in the Gulf with a 40 per cent share, according to a leading manufacturer.
Internet TV sets have built-in Wi-Fi adapters that connect to the web and allow users to combine the traditional features of television with added web features such as browsing, applications, social media and video on demand. "The growth has been exponential," said Justin Shaw, the general manager of the audiovisual division for Samsung Gulf Electronics.
"Growth is strong because people do want greater internet connectivity, be it on their mobile phones or their TVs."
These connected TVs give people the chance to choose what programmes they want to watch when they want to watch them, without being reliant on the linear scheduled programming on offer from satellite or cable services.
Samsung is the market leader in internet TVs, but LG is also challenging for a slice of the business. LG recently entered a partnership with Etisalat to sell TV sets with the eLife package, giving customers access to its "OnWeb" video service.
"Once you turn on the TV, all you have to do is wait 25 seconds and that's it - you're online," said HS Paik, the president of LG Gulf FZE.
"Together with Etisalat, we are not just here to provide connected TVs, we are here to actually provide connected home and also connected mobile. So what we will in the future try to do is be able to provide connected entertainment, anytime, anywhere."
However, the trend is being held back by a lack of content compared with more developed markets such as the US and UK. High prices for broadband is also a factor.
The Emirates have an average broadband speed of 3.92 Mbits per second, double the speed of connections elsewhere in the Middle East. But users here pay for that advantage, as much as eight times more than users in eastern Europe, making the UAE one of the most expensive broadband markets in the world. Mr Shaw played down the importance of broadband prices for internet TVs.
"I think many people need broadband connections regardless of a Smart TV or not. Smart TV just extends some benefits that you get from that connection," he said.
"Broadband will get better and cheaper as opposed to anything else."
A lack of content for online TV in the UAE is the big factor that could put off people from buying these products for now.
Services such as Hulu and Netflix in the US, and the BBC iPlayer and Seesaw in the UK are available only in those countries, while similar streaming services do not exist in the Middle East.
Samsung has partnered with local and Indian content providers, but this may not be enough to satisfy users' tastes for popular US or UK shows and movies available on Hulu or Netflix.
The only way of accessing these services from the UAE is to use a virtual private network, which disguises the origin of an internet connection.
But this is illegal in this country and the Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority has blocked access to sites containing this software for purchase or download.
With little content available for internet TV users in the region, content piracy flourishes.
This has led TV makers to turn to applications custom-made for internet television to keep consumers satisfied. These apps are developed to play games and other activities on the web and can be specially formatted for a television screen.
"What's important about applications, if you compare it to what's been successful on the mobile platform with maybe Apple and Android, is the number of applications is a very key driver for people to adopt the technology," said Mr Shaw.
"So at Samsung we are encouraging as many people as possible to develop applications and access a new audience that they wouldn't traditionally get hold of."